It's accepted in conventional wisdom that Libertarians, if forced to choose between the two major US parties, tend to vote for the Republicans as their second choice. However, the Republican party in recent years has drifted, at least in rhetoric, towards a more moderate economic outlook, and a more conservative social outlook - i.e. away from the Libertarians.

So, I ask - Does that conventional wisdom still hold?

Since 2020, what fraction of libertarian voters, when forced to choose between a Democrat and a Republican, wind up picking the Republican?

  • It's possible that voters are selecting candidates rather than voting for the party. Obviously, since this is speculation with no evidence, I can't support that as an answer.
    – uberhaxed
    Nov 11, 2022 at 19:43

3 Answers 3


A blog from the LSE looks at this in the context of the 2016 and 2020 elections.

The notion of a "Libertarian Voter" is slightly nebulous. For many Libertarian voters, it is already their second choice. Among the 3.3 million who voted Libertarian in 2016, there were a lot of voters who would have previously voted Democrat or Republican, but became Libertarian voters as they thought the candidates (Clinton/Trump) were poor, and the Libertarian candidate, former Governor Gary Johnson, was a strong candidate.

So there is a bloc of Libertarian voters who are "first choice Democrats" (but want a particular type of candidate) And there are Libertarian voters who are "Never Trump Republicans".

There is a bloc of "pure" Libertarians, for whom both the major parties are anathema. They don't have a second choice, except for abstaining.

Take away these blocs and who is left? Mostly moderate Libertarians who want low taxes, less government intervention, and freedom to conduct business without red tape, but they still want a government, they want laws (just not the ones that affect them personally). Such people would fit better under the Republican's umbrella than the Democrat's. They would be mostly "second-choice Republican", if the right candidate was found.

In the 2020 election, many of the first-choice Democrats and some of the "Second choice Republicans" actually voted Democrat. The Libertarian candidate was less established, and there is a strong dislike of Trumpism in many Libertarian circles. Some voters were willing to vote for their third choice, in order to defeat a particular candidate. If a different candidate is on the ballot, they will not vote that way again.

The characteristics of Libertarian voters are that they are swing voters. They consider themselves to be making rational, independent decisions. Not following a Tribe. So the notion of fixed "second-choice" may not be the best way to understand how they will act in a particular race. This has implications for states like Georgia (with run-offs) or California (with open primaries). Libertarians may actually try to vote rationally on the policies and qualities of the candidates(!).


One good empirical test will be Georgia's U.S. Senate runoff election on December 6, 2022. In the first round of election the results were as follows:

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In the second round, Libertarian candidate Chase Oliver will be eliminated, so the percentage vote totals in the runoff election in excess of the first round results for Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker will be a good approximation of how the Libertarian vote split.

Of course, in this case, as in most cases, two successive elections don't have exactly the same voters and differences in voter turnout between elections can obscure shifts in the Libertarian vote from one election to another.

An alternative is to look at a race, like this one in Georgia that has a Libertarian candidate, and to also look at other races without a significant third-party candidate running on the same day in the same election involving similar issues (e.g. a tight Congressional race in Georgia between a Democrat and a Republican with no third party candidate). Then you can compare the vote totals for the two party race and the three party race in the same geographic area (e.g. a county total) to try to estimate the effect in that case. The raw data from the Georgia Secretary of State is here if you want to analyze it in the context of the "natural experiment" of the 2022 midterms in Georgia.

For example, U.S. House District 2 in Georgia was a reasonably close race with only a Democrat and a Republican running.

Previous studies (I'll cite chapter and verse if I can find them easily) have shown that while some people who vote for third-party candidates would vote for a major party candidate if the third-party candidate were not available, that a significant share of third-party voters, on the order of 20%-60%, would not vote for either a Democrat or a Republican if the third-party candidate were not an option. So, that has to be figured into the "lean" of the third-party vote as well.

Further, as the answer from @JamesK observes, third-party voters may be swayed by the individual candidates rather than their party affiliation. Thus, in the Georgia U.S. Senate race, for example, Libertarian voters who chose to vote in the runoff election may be basing their decisions more on their assessments of Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker as individuals rather than based upon their partisan affiliation.


While I'm not registered with any party, the Libertarian Party is closest to my personal politics, but I've only voted for the Libertarian Party Candidate once. There are a contingent of voters who are looking at party affiliation and instead vote for the "best person for the job" rather than the party. That isn't to say I don't have a bias for one party over the other, but to say "just because I did/didn't vote for you in this election it does not mean I won't vote for you in a future election."

In general, while the Libertarian has never won a seat in the Federal Government, their have been some democrats and republicans in Congress who represented the Libertarian wing of their party. Libertarians tend to believe that they're politics are a perfect blend of the best policies of both parties (generally summed up as socially liberal, fiscally conservative). It's important to note that they tend to side away from the hardliners of both parties, so a Conservative Fiscal policy will be a moderately conservatives, while a social liberal policy would similarly be moderate. So Republicans having a moderate fiscal policy is not a bad thing at all to many of them (they're still capitalists, but they tend to have a lot of views in line with economist Henry George who is considered as far left as a capitalist can be. Part of the love is much of George's theories centered around a progressive tax system that didn't slow economic growth (i.e. It paid for an adequately sized government but didn't intrude on the rights of the people.).

Just because Libertarians do not Trump, do not mean Biden is a better option than Trump. Trump did actually receive more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016 when controlled for turn out. One Theory for this is that Trump had no past policies to run on in 2016, so it was hard to be convinced on what you were voting on by his promises alone, but by 2020 his policies he had enacted were very good and very close to his campaign promises.

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